Thinking Twice About Mr. Wood

By Mike Appleton (Guest Blogger)

The sexual harassment controversy currently surrounding the Herman Cain campaign has produced the expected responses.  The candidate has vigorously denied all of the accusations and his defenders have hurled  a few of their own, alternately blaming both Republican rivals and Democrats for the scandal and questioning the motives and veracity of the alleged victims.  The accounts of the women who have come forward have been truly disturbing, but what is almost as disturbing are the public statements of Mr. Cain’s newly retained attorney, Lin Wood.

Appearing at a press conference with Mr. Cain in Phoenix this past week, Mr. Wood, a nationally known lawyer with particular expertise in libel law, stated “I’m not here to scare anyone off. However, they should think twice, anyway.” Mr. Wood characterized the harassment claims as “false” and criticized the fact that Sharon Bialek “chose to come forward for whatever reason after 14 years, when recollections have failed and witnesses cannot be located.” Mr. Wood added that should the women proceed with a joint press conference, “I’ll be watching carefully.”

Supporters of Mr. Cain no doubt will argue that Mr. Wood’s statements were perfectly reasonable examples of proactive advocacy. I suggest that they were much more than that.

In 2010, 11,717 charges of sexual harassment against employers were filed with the EEOC. That number represents only 11.7% of the 99,922 claims filed last year. But it is significant because we know that most cases of sexual harassment are never reported. Indeed, various studies have concluded that only 6% to 12% of those women who have been victims report it to their superiors, and an even smaller percentage pursue formal claims. The reason, of course, is fear. An accusation of sexual harassment can result in the loss of one’s job or career prospects. It can submit the accuser to embarrassment and humiliation. If the accused is a powerful or popular figure, the victim might not be believed and the harassment may go unpunished.

Experience teaches us that victims of sexual harassment are frequently treated like victims of rape; there are always those who will conclude that a victim brought it on herself, that she was at fault for enticing, or sending mixed signals to, the accused, that she “asked for it.” In the case of Mr. Cain, it has been suggested that the alleged victims are seeking publicity or money, that they are simply attempting to destroy Mr. Cain’s candidacy or that they have mental or emotional issues. One female reporter on a cable news network even derided Ms. Bialek’s makeup. There are many reasons to explain why someone has maintained her silence for 14 years.

Context means everything, and Mr. Wood’s comments can only be understood from the perspective of women who have tentatively determined to reveal information under circumstances which they know can bring harm to themselves and their loved ones. When Mr. Wood cautioned them to “think twice” before speaking out, they knew what he meant. Think twice about your career. Think twice about the consequences to your family. Think twice about taking on someone with millions of supporters and millions of dollars and a lawyer who has already told the world that you are a liar. Think twice about how much you are willing to sacrifice for what you believe to be the truth.

As a lawyer who has tried many cases, I understand that the line between legitimate advocacy and intimidation is not always brightly drawn. In this instance, however, my view is that Mr. Wood has crossed it.

Sources: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, November 8, 2011; “Sex Discrimination and Sexual Harassment,” (July, 2011); “Sexual Harassment in the Workplace,” National Women’s Law Center (July 31, 2000).

22 thoughts on “Thinking Twice About Mr. Wood”

  1. Look, if you have a sexual harassment case, you have a case. Go for it. Don’t be intimidated. Having witnesses and other corroborating evidence helps.

    The intimidating lawsuits that are a real menace are the Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP), usually administered by the 1% who have the bucks against some (usually) public employee whistleblower, who has no money, yet has to defend himself…wins, but is out the big bucks that it cost to defend himself. These are the dangerous one!

  2. I am hopeful the authorities will take a close look at what appears to be witness intimidation.

  3. The Cain campaign may understand the far right wing, concluding that Cain’s lawyer Lin Wood could stave off additional onslaughts of alleged history, but tactically it is a very flawed election strategy.

    The most competent trial lawyers are generally buffoons concerning the winds of politics, and should stay in the court room.

    Imagine Karl Rove trying a critical, complex murder case, compared to his handling of smear campaigns.

    Not in the same league.

  4. SB: Seems like more of a Grievance Committee thingy than a court thingy; don’t you think?

  5. Mike A,

    Great points, but the question is ‘what’s the remedy?’

    Seems like more of a Grievance Committee thingy than a court thingy don’t you?

    Not for nothing, but don’t you think the issue of ‘standing’ would fog things up in either venue?

    Anyway, it appears you and Rachel Maddow are on the same page:

    Rachel Maddow: Herman Cain Lawyer’s Comment ‘Shocked’ Me

    “Rachel Maddow proclaimed herself to be “shocked” by a recent, threatening comment made by Herman Cain’s lawyer to any potential victims of sexual harassment — so shocked that she devoted the first part of her Thursday show to the remark.”


  6. Mike S.,
    Intimidation is exacty what Mr. Wood is promising any women who makes a truthful claim concerning Mr. Cain’s proclivity to demean and harass women.

  7. Mike A.,

    Thanks for such a good discussion of the issue of the fear to go public by those suffering sexual harassment. Since this is such a pernicious issue and touches on the resistance to women’s equality as well their status as second class citizens, what gets lost is that unfortunately the law has in many cases devolved into intimidation rather than litigation. The inequality of bringing suit against a wealthy entity acts in tandem with the wealthy being able to punish those of unequal means. While it has always been my assumption that the law was supposed to weigh each claim equally, judicial delays, cumbersome procedure and the cost of bringing/defending lawsuits has unbalanced the scales. In this instance Mr. Wood was strongly implying that the Cain people would overwhelm anyone daring to come forwards and expose his presumed dalliance.

  8. Eniobob,

    If I had said that some might consider I was either racist or a misogynist……I am pleased you said it….I agree with your position….

    I am equal opportunity in distain…. It is generally reserved for those that should know better but don’t act it….

  9. For awhile I’ve been trying to understand the whats up is down and whats down is up with Cain and this Sexual harrassment/abuse and why its seems to not have an effect on his campaign,then the bulb went off.

    It stands to reason with the assault on womens rights coming from the GOP that may explain why it seems not to have the effect it should,could be wrong but how else do you explain going against the grain of how a man should respect and treat women and some people accepting this behaviour that Cain is showing as okay.

  10. Mike A,
    I enjoyed your article. It seems obvious that Mr. Wood has crossed the line into intimidation land. As Mespo suggested, that heavy handed approach might come back to bite Mr. Cain.

  11. Mike,

    I’ll join the echo chamber too. Well done! Many women DO think twice–and your post helps to explain why they are reluctant to claim that they have been sexually harassed at work.

  12. MIke A:

    “Great story Mike A.”

    Ditto here too, Mike. At the risk of sounding like an echo chamber, good work, as usual.

  13. It is a veiled intimidation tactic. “it’s what you know and don’t say that can hurt me” syndrome. Keep em quite and they can’t hurt you. This happens a lot in med malpractice cases. Threats of job losses…. Proper witness coaching works well…. Or in the case of Reagan Bush…. I do not recall…

    NPR had a great story on this last week about 2 days after the story leaked….

    Great story Mike A.

  14. So long as there is precedential value to New York Times v. Sullivan (requiring a showing of actual malice before a public figure can prevail in a defamation case), Federal Rule 11 (providing monetary sanctions against a person who defends a case without factual basis), and the eligibility of woman jurors, I’d say Cain and his consigliere have more to fear from his whistleblowers than they have to fear from both of them.

  15. I, like anon, would like to know more. If not illegal (it should be) is the very clear threat by Wood unethical?

  16. “As a lawyer who has tried many cases, I understand that the line between legitimate advocacy and intimidation is not always brightly drawn. In this instance, however, my view is that Mr. Wood has crossed it.”

    I wish you would expand on that. It’s an interesting point, and since I am not a lawyer, I’d like to know more. I feel that several times in family court issues, I’ve been threatened by lawyers. (Usually my ex wife’s).

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